Saturday, January 5, 2013

It is like a real life Jetson’s and if you know what they are, you are old like me. I am talking about the cartoon of my childhood that was set in the future where families were getting around in an aircraft to do local errands. Two Swiss men have invented a plane that they hope to fly across the United States next spring and then around the world without burning an ounce of fuel.
The plane is called Solar Impulse that is powered solely by the sun and is the first to be able to fly at night. The thousands of solar cells on the wings transmit enough energy to batteries to keep it in the sky. The plane is very light because it weighs less than a SUV and needs only 165 yards of runway to take off compared to over a mile for a commercial jet to take off or land.
With unnaturally long wings, the plane seems to glide like a dragon fly. There is nothing that exists like this anywhere in the world. The inventors only knew they wanted to create a plane that did not rely on fossil fuel. They started dreaming of such a plane in 1999 and raised $120 Million dollars from corporate sponsors and investors. It first left the ground in 2009.
It is very different because it is built from carbon fibers that is an extremely light weight material. The landing wheels are smaller that those made for a child’s tricycle. This sophisticated machine looks like it was put together by a child with an erector set, a very simple design. Some of the main parts can weigh only one fifth of a pound.
The solar cells are also very light. The existing solar panels available are clumsy and weigh a lot more so these new panels found on this plane are also a breakthrough invention. Why can’t they advertise these type of news worthy firsts on the nightly news instead of all the violence in the world? Maybe then our children would want to watch the news at night.
These inventors knew they had to create solar panels flexible enough to create the contour of the plane. There are 12,000 of them on the wings. The solar cells are the surface of the wing, not glued to anything, they are the surface. The cells capture the energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. The electricity goes simultaneously to the engines and to the batteries and with the next sunrise the process repeats itself. Yes, the ever predictable rising sun is a sure thing we can count on for an energy source. So, stop fighting over expensive messy oil. Now why aren’t we driving cars like this already?
Almost all the energy created by the cells ends up being used by the engine compared to cars that can waste up to 70% of the energy provided. During the day energy is stored in unusually efficient batteries. The inventor Bertrand Piccard points out to us that if we can fly in a solar airplane with no fuel just on solar power, then all the technology can also be used in our daily lives for cars, houses, heating systems and cooling systems and on and on. Why isn’t our government investing in these technologies instead of investing in wars?
It is a quiet and elegant plane and when the sunrises, it brings hope to our spirits that we as people can continue with our complicated lives and gives now our aids our machines that they can continue providing us with a service with the power given by that beautiful sunrise. The inventor plans to take a around the world flight in 2015. Technically, the plane never even needs to stop for any reason compared to our finicky human lives.
Sometimes talent must be inherited. In this case it is a family of visionaries, pioneers and adventurers. The inventor Bertrand Piccard’s father Jacques invented a type of submarine and tested it himself by going down 7 miles deep in the Pacific Ocean and survived 50 years ago. His grandfather August, went up in a pressurized cabin , attached it to a balloon and flew it to an altitude of 10 miles.
It was considered to be the first man in space because at that altitude one can see the curvature of the earth. We need to be role models for our children. Bertrand’s grandfather was the inspiration for him to follow in his footsteps. He won the first ever Trans-Atlantic Balloon race and then went on to being the first to fly around the world in a balloon non-stop in three weeks. Now he has given humanity this incredible plane and no one knows his name really. Sad Isn’t it?

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